TESTING TIMES: Sober Thinking Alone Leads to Security

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
28 Sep 2020

A Sarva Dharma Puja Marks Rafale Induction

People were greatly surprised when the induction of Rafale Jet Fighters was marked by a sarva dharma puja. They wondered whether a Hindutva-inspired BJP had matured in office acknowledging that India belongs to all religious communities in equal measure. Some put the event to the open-mindedness of Rajnath Singh. But the unacknowledged fact remains that for the army front lines and productive hard work India needs the marginalized communities, minorities and the “other” under-estimated groups. 

Of the 1000 men who lost their lives at Siachen glacier defending the western front, how many belonged to the Senas and Vahinis of privileged communities sponsored by the VHP, to muscle men trained to divide the nation before elections, to anti-social elements motivated to destroy masjids and pull down churches, and to the cow vigilantes and lynchers of Yogiji? Where are Mohan Bhagwat’s fighting men, who, he claimed are more disciplined and determined that the Indian Army? 

Ex-army men resent the politicization of their sacrifice by the saffron sovereigns. And don’t forget, as the cold intensifies, over 50,000 of our fighting men are getting ready to face any eventuality at a height of 17,000 feet. All respects to them! We need to be anxious; for, there are another 50,000 well-armed men on the other side.

Sober Thinking Makes True Facts Evident

When testing time comes, all self-proclaimed patriots, nationalists and disorderly communal groups grow timid, and leave the struggle to plain, ordinary, but ‘genuine’ Indians who largely belong to the humbler communities. No claims and boasts, no special privileges, but they love their country. The Defence Minister is fully aware of that. Sober thinking makes true facts transparent. Truth must be admitted though painful. 

But the great pity is that the first BJP initiative for an interreligious prayer was for a ‘fighting’ cause, not a ‘saving’ cause; for example, in behalf of covid-19 victims, helpless migrants, anxious farmers, or unemployed youth. 

Just as the saffron brigade makes sure to keep a safe distance from the Ladakh frontlines, the great Hindutva miracle-workers and panacea-producers keep a greater distance from covid-19 patients.  None of them offered to bring healing to Amit Shah, or Nitin Gadkari, or Mahant Nritya Gopal Das the Chief of the Ram Temple Trust. 

Will sober thinking put an end to the obscurantism that the ruling elite are consciously cultivating among the masses to take advantage of their credulity? We are glad that Modiji spoke of a “scientific temper” in reference to the National Policy of Education. We hope such a sober way of speaking becomes normal once again among our leaders, confining  reckless claims and aggressive utterances of men like Togadias and Sudarshans to ancient history. That alone will create a sense of security among the populace.

Uncertainties Remain

Rajnath Singh was frank enough to admit that anyone could start a war, but its “outcome” could not be predicted. Both Indian and Chinese leaders vow not to yield an “inch” of their territory. Rightly. But they can bring a bit of sober thinking into their discussions. Unfortunately the two LAC perceptions are irreconcilable. Newspaper reports said that the Chinese forces had come 8 km beyond the LAC and were in occupation of a 100 sq.km. The Chinese deny any encroachment. The facts is, China had never accepted the 1842 agreement between Tibet and British India. In the same way, they had always considered Northern Arunachal Southern Tibet. So the deadlock remains. 

When the British and later the Government of India recognised the sovereignty of China over Tibet, they had not foreseen the possibility of a direct occupation of the land by the Chinese. They considered Tibet a safe buffer zone between the two giants. But Mao, in keeping his fighting tradition, wanted full control of every bit of land to which China had laid a claim in its long history. What hastened the immediate clash was the flight of the Dalai Lama to India and the protection the country extended to him and his followers. That earned the Chinese wrath. But one cannot deny the fact that there had been long periods in history when Tibet was a totally independent power in central Asia, had a persuasive hold over the Mongols and had even defeated the Chinese army. But, later, her self-chosen isolation greatly weakened her. 

It is good to look at things realistically. Nearly all ex-colonies have some difficulty or the other in sorting out differences with their neighbours after independence. Sober thinking, again, leads to mutually agreed solutions. Nehru’s dream was the Co-Emergence of India and China on the world scene as two great Asian powers. He was eager to show to everyone that Power need not be abused, as was done by the Colonial Powers in their heyday. In fact, in all history, the two nations had never competed, China politically dominating their own zone of Asia, India providing wisdom and religious inspiration from its own stock of intellectual and spiritual resources. Unfortunately, today, the two national visions do not converge. Hindutva-based nationalism has distorted our collective self-understanding even further.

Immediate Reason: Internal Discontentment

From the Indian point of view, China’s policy of aggressive expansionism is the immediate cause for the present troubles. The Chinese, however, attribute the tensions to the recent rise of “fanatic nationalism” in India spilling over to the borders. There may be some truth in either allegation. But what is common between both Modi and Xi today is their eagerness to divert public attention from internal problems. 

Modiji’s Mann ki Baat of August 30th earned more than “one million dislikes”. His effigy was burned at Muzzaffarnagar on his birthday.  Parliamentarians protested against the situation of unemployment. The Farm Bill is being opposed. Similarly, Xi is struggling against dissent within his party. Internal control is tightening and civil liberties are being reduced. A re-education programme (“rectify education”) seeks to make politicians and officials subservient. A border issue serves to distract the public from internal discontentment. 

The Tragedy of the Situation

The tragedy of the situation is not only the 100,000 men at 17,000-18,000 ft being tortured by biting cold and their lives at risk if things go out of control. The greater agony on our side is the collapse of our economy that has sunk by 23.9% recently and is likely to sink further by 11.5%, according to Moody’s. What is claimed is a “V-like” recovery, what is feared is a “ra-like” (Hindi ra) downward trend. If money goes for keeping up the Ladakh frontline struggle in a big way, starvation is not an unlikely possibility in many places, which has often taken place even in normal times in a sharply unequal India…and diseases in diverse forms. Death stares at our fighting men, death stares at our feeble farmers. 

China, already under diverse sanctions from the western world, will have to go through similar anxieties. Things then are going to go bad, not merely for the 100,000 men on the Ladakh heights, but for the 2.7 billion people in Asia’s two mighty nations, a third portion of humanity! God rescue us from such a situation! 

Use of Force has Always been Counterproductive 

If you think of things soberly, who are the people confronting each other? Nations whose demographic decline is well on the way or is soon to begin. It is estimated that by 2050 China will have 32.6% of its population over 65, needing special care. By 2100 its population declines to 480 million, mostly aged. The same is going to be true of India at a “little” later date, unless we rethink our policies. 

But at least, let us learn an important lesson from China’s experience: public force exerted on private decisions is counterproductive. It has been found that a big proportion of the “one-child policy” generation are unfit for military service, in fact for any strenuous productive effort. Future is gradually passing on to unsure hands. Force exercised in human affairs has always been counterproductive. 

Government Dictating Food Habits

In India, our difficulties have not so much been with force used to limit family numbers as to control “food habits”. In fact, this is a greater crime against humanity itself. Dalits, tribals and other labouring classes that have no cheap access to protein except through meat-related foods especially beef, are deprived of necessary nourishment that they need through the Government-imposed cow slaughter ban. This is abuse of power at its heights that really calls for UN intervention. From the internal point of view, it is suicidal. Some sober thinking will be helpful. 

The Ruling Dispensation, supported by an unrealistic generation of ambitious upstarts and communal veterans,  stands for a Strong State under a Strongman Leader and  fiercely support the use of force. Ruling by Ordinances has become a set pattern. Their strategists keep the humbler masses compliant by an astute use of religion, e.g. yathras, yajnas, poojas, temple-building, cow-nurturing, in which they themselves have no faith. Enforced contribution from public sector undertakings and crony capitalists keep the temple-construction in progress and the architects of a partisan ideology keep their hidden motives under a religious façade. 

Learn from Others’ Experience

But the direct result of regulating food habits is the under-nourishment that is growing acute in BJP heartlands. Malnutrition is making headway especially among the working classes, women, and children. India’s Human Capital ranking has sunk to 116 of 174. Some 10,000 children died in Yogi’s Gorakhpur hospitals during the last few years. The situation is similar in all UP, MP, Haryana, Bihar and others. Malnourished mothers come to the hospitals when it is already too late, children die in large numbers, doctors are blamed…and even imprisoned along communal lines.  If the sums spent on cow-care, temple-building, poojari-subsidies could be spent on people’s need, India would be a better place. 

So, if China is going to be weakened by her ill-advised one-child policy, India’s fate is already written in bold: she is destined to under-perform when her Demographic Advantage will be the highest. We are passing on the golden opportunities of that  “Golden Era” (when we will have the biggest number of people in working age)  into hands of a malnourished generation and under-trained population. But we admit, a revision of policy is still possible. Sober and balanced thinking can reshape the future.

We may learn from Japanese experience what happens when a population ages and is in decline. Their own intellectuals have been self-critical. The spirit of venture gradually declines, the desire to expand weakens; the main concern is about maintenance… even mere survival. There is very little eagerness to think anew, share ideas, explore possibilities, take risk. Consequently, innovation suffers most. EU has avoided the anxiety to some extent by allowing immigration.

Divert and Rule  

In an authoritarian state like China, decision-makers move from one blunder to another. Centrally controlled projects turn out to be perfect achievements on paper, but end up as unproductive ventures, irrelevant in context and not responding to social needs. Infrastructures are often built where something else is needed, mighty buildings come up and remain unused. Such big blunders become evident only after a generation or two, as it happened in Russia. And when criticisms begin to rise, planners are forced to concentrate on curbing dissent than correcting mistakes. Propaganda centres on image-building. India has been learning… unfortunately the wrong lessons.

Ordinary people are little aware how they are being misled. Our policy-makers are past masters by now at this game. Perceptive people see through.  For instance, they are sure that demonetisation was meant to cripple the opposition parties before the UP elections than to check Black Money. That the lockdown was hastily imposed to control the CAA protesters than to control coronavirus. That the drama connected with the Mann ki Baat those days, ringing of bells and clashing plates, was to distract the public from Delhi riots related emotions than to honour health workers. That the covid-19 information concentrated more on the failures of non-BJP states than on the education of the public. That the Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump hullabaloo served people’s inflated egos than any social benefit. That the routine praise that India gets from heads of states merely points to their interest in the Indian markets than Modiji’s political skills. 

But questions remain. Why not a word of explanation from Modiji when covid victims’ numbers are rising to the 6 million mark? Why not a word of apology for taking the economy down the deep sea? 

Everyone is Ultimately Accountable

Hard truths must be admitted in hard times. Our Health Minister Harsh Vardhan himself has admitted that  covid-19 has taken the country back 20 years in the health sector. As for the economy, what is promised to us is a V-like resilience, what is feared is a “ra”-like (Hindi “ra”) decline. The painful reality is that India keeps continuously missing opportunities because our policy makers prefer to look to the past for its ancient glory than to a convincing future placed on a sure footing. They are all set to favour a Few (corporates) than the Many (1.3 billion people), to preside over a divided nation to keep things in their hands than invite everyone to a common endeavour. They too will be forced to admit one day that imbalance is an invitation to insecurity. 

With the further weakening of Congress, the Strong State that the BJP had been longing for has come. But this places a greater responsibility on those who steer the aircraft lest its fails. If they do not make themselves answerable to the public today, nonetheless they are answerable to a fiercely Demanding Destiny: about border issues, programmes for the poor, elimination of divided thinking, and fostering of unity. As you sow, so you reap. Under One-man Rule, when the Leader changes his mind, the world changes. If he changes his mind after taking into consideration the opinion of everyone concerned, the world changes for the better. This reminds us of an eternal truth: everyone is accountable to Destiny, the Leader himself and everyone else concerned. This is true both sides of the border!


 

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